Make Your Cardio More Effective

Specific conditioning sessions are essential for competitive athletes, that goes without saying, however they're also extremely important for non-athletes too! 


Cardiovascular exercise comes in many many forms and it can help with weight management, reduce risk of metabolic disease, increase cardiac output and stroke volume, increase lung capacity and significantly improve general makers of health and well-being. 

We all know this. Cardiovascular exercise helps keep us healthy. 


The problem is that so many blogs plastered all over social media have made people think that cardio will negatively impact your physique due to its potential catabolic effects. This is nothing but utter b***ocks!


Yes, doing hours upon hours of cardio each week whilst in a significant calorie deficit and lack of dietary protein may reduce your ability to maintain muscle tissue, but that isn't down to the type of cardio you're doing. Muscle loss comes as a result of multiple factors. Cardio alone is not to blame. Cardio is good for you, I assure you! 


Now we've got that cleared up, allow me to move on to my main point...


If, like most, your aim is to get stronger, you have to be very careful that whatever cardio you are doing doesn't affect your ability to perform in the weight-room. Too many people train too hard. I know that sounds strange... bear with me. 


To put it simply, we have 6 training zones:


Zone 1: Active Recovery

Zone 2: Endurance

Zone 3: No Man's land

Zone 4: No Man's Land

Zone 5: Lactate Threshold, Improve VO2max

Zone 6: Anaerobic Capacity, Speed Work



I do not want to delve into the specific purpose of each training zone and how to train effectively within them, but I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that most people spend their time within zones 3 and 4. These zones are of an intensity that people can sustain for between 15 minutes to an hour. These zones feel intense enough for them to be a challenge, but they're easy enough for you to complete your workout within the desired time frame. 

Do you nip out for a quick 3-5 mile run as part of your cardio? Yep, zones 3-4. Are you a crossfitter? Regularly complete WODs that consist of AMRAPS that last greater than 5 minutes? Maybe your WOD is time capped at 15 minutes? Yep, zones 3-4. Do you perform intervals that consist of short rest periods? Yep, zones 3-4!


I am not saying that training within zones 3 and 4 is all bad. You'll certainly see improvements in your fitness. The problem is that this intensity doesn't produce much greater results than training in zone 2 would, however it is much much more fatiguing. So much so that it will certainly affect your performance in the weight room! 


Your legs will feel heavy. You wont feel as fired up to get that bar on your back. You'll struggle to get stronger!


What I suggest is that you pull back a little on the intensity of your cardio and give zone 2 training a try. 


This type of training will feel too easy. You'll be able to hold a conversation with somebody, but you'll still work up a sweat. As a general guide you'll want to work somwehere between 60-75% of your maximum heart rate. 


For the keen cyclists amongst you, you can try riding between 56-65% of your FTP or 81-89% of your heart rate at Lactate Threshold. Enjoy your running? You can try running at 71-86% of your best 10k running pace.


The benefits of zone 2 training are endless....


  • Increased muscle capillary density

  • Increased muscle mitochondrial enzymes

  • Improved removal of lactic acid

  • Increased glycogen storage capacity

  • Increased ability to metabolise fat as fuel

  • Increased lactate threshold

  • Improved VO2max


What's more, it is far less fatiguing than training in higher zones, and therefore it will not affect your ability to train in the gym. One of the downsides of zone 2 training is that it needs to be extensive in order for it to be beneficial. For endurance athletes this could mean 2-6 hours of training. For this reason, it can be fairly time consuming and relatively boring, particularly if you chose to do this indoors. 


My advice would be to keep your main cardio sessions to the weekends and rest days from the gym. Hop on your bike, get the family involved, go for a brisk walk in the hills and spend some time away from the gym! It'll make for a nice change and it'll certainly do you some good. You can spend more time with family, friends whilst getting a couple of hours of cardio in the bag. 


On training days, perhaps do this type of cardio upon waking, but limit it to none impact forms of exercise such as cycling, swimming and rowing. Limit these sessions to 30-60 minutes so that they're easier to fit within your diary/schedule. You'll feel great when it comes to your evening gym session as it'll significantly help with your recovery! 


I have been factoring zone 2 training into the programmes of my clients and athletes more and more as of late with great results. Not only are people finding it easier to magage their weight, they're also less fatigued and performing better in the gym too!

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